To Hell and Back: A Commuter’s Life

When picturing college life, the images that come to mind are those of a crowded dorm, a Thursday night party or a table littered with red cups from a round of beer pong. Rarely does anyone think of sitting in traffic or enduring a grueling commute. For many college students, however, commuting is a part of their college experience.
UC Irvine has a reputation as a commuter school. I’m sad to say I contributed to this reputation by commuting my first year. While it was exhausting and often frustrating, it was a valuable experience. Unlike the 33 percent of UCI commuters who drive alone, according to the 2007 Air Quality Management District Commuter Survey, I decided to take the Metrolink train to school. Not only did it save gas, but the school gives train riders a partial ticket reimbursement, so it seemed like a good idea. While I sometimes feel that I missed out on the freshmen dorm experience, commuting was quite an experience in itself.
Not only did I get to hang out with hobos at the train station at ungodly hours of the morning, but I met fellow commuters who felt compelled to tell me the most intimate details of their lives. I met businessmen who rode the train to work and told me of their various trysts with strippers while on business trips. I encountered a 20-year-old military wife who took the train to the Paul Mitchell School and told me of her cross-country travels as she followed her husband from base to base. I also met two older women who had an obsession with fad diets, loved Dr. Phil and read a different self-help book every day. Several individuals also attempted to convert me to various religions; as a result, I accrued countless numbers of pamphlets and fliers for every religion imaginable. Most importantly, I met other students who commuted and shared my plight.
Despite the incentives of public transportation, (which include, but are not limited to, the fascinating encounters such as those listed above) commuting is inconvenient. Whether driving alone or using public transportation, a commuter always has to account for travel time, traffic and any unforeseen circumstances.
John Paul Issa, a second-year chemistry major and a commuter from Riverside, shared one such situation. On his first day using public transportation to get to school, he encountered a delay that cost him hours of time: “I thought I’d take the 7:30 a.m. train and roll into UCI around 9:15 a.m.,” he said. After delays caused by a suicide attempt on the Metrolink train tracks and a bomb scare at the Santa Ana station, Issa arrived at UCI at about 12:45 p.m.
While this is an extreme case, it illustrates the fact that commuters need to be ready for anything. Commuters who drive also encounter the same difficulties. Brianne Moreno, a second-year biology major who commutes from Chino, shared that “The freeways are unpredictable. Commuting is extremely stressful.”
Part of the inconvenience of commuting is the fact that it makes getting involved on campus difficult. Most club meetings are late in the evening, which means that commuters have to worry about traffic or missing the last trains and busses home. Many commuters also have to configure their schedule around commuting. “You tend to shy away from very early or very late classes,” Issa said. This can be a problem when classes are only offered at one time or the classes offered at the most convenient times fill up.
Also, while saving money is a major incentive of commuting, it can actually get quite expensive. Gas and public transportation add up, as does the cost of food. It is increasingly difficult to find a meal that costs less than five dollars, which gets expensive when most of your meals are eaten on campus. These frustrations associated with commuting can affect not only your sanity, but your wallet as well.
While commuting is problematic, it also teaches excellent time management skills. When you are waking up at 5 a.m. and getting home at 8 p.m., you learn to cram as much as possible into every minute of the day. Commuting also creates a familiarity with the campus and surrounding areas. Since commuters are more likely to stay on campus between classes to save time, they have more opportunities to explore the campus and its resources. Commuting also forces you to actually get up and go to class.
For the commuter, missing one class means missing all the day’s classes. It is a lot easier to sleep in for one class and go to the next one when you live on or near campus. It is also a lot easier to procrastinate and save work until the last minute. However, living on campus provides more opportunities for involvement in the campus community. Commuting, while it offers some interesting experiences and lessons in time management, is no substitute for getting involved on campus and being a part of the UCI community.